DAVID BIANCULLI

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GABRIELA TAMARIZ

NOEL HOLSTON

JONATHAN STORM

 
 
 
 
 
1986: 'American Masters' Premieres on PBS
June 23, 2017  | By David Bianculli  | 4 comments
 

On this day in 1986, PBS premiered an arts documentary series that is still going strong: American Masters, one of the most durable and worthwhile jewels in public television’s crown.

American Masters premiered with a behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway hit from the year before: Dustin Hoffman’s riveting portrayal of Willy Loman in a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.

Called Private Conversations: On the Set of ‘Death of a Salesman,’ this inaugural presentation of American Masters followed Hoffman and company during the rehearsal process, at a time when the 45-year-old actor was still struggling with what he considered the best approach to portray the beleaguered, 60-year-old Willy Loman. Arthur Miller also was interviewed, and the actors shadowed in rehearsal, in that wonderful production, also included John Malkovich, Kate Reid, Charles Durning and Stephen Lang.

Over the years, American Masters has profiled and examined artists in a wide array of creative fields, including author Louisa May Alcott, filmmaker Woody Allen, musician Louis Armstrong, nature artist John James Audubon, and photographer Richard Avedon — and those are just some of the As.

Other productions include stellar studies of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, George Balanchine, Buster Keaton, Walter Cronkite, Ralph Ellison, Ray Charles, Eugene O’Neill, Albert Einstein, Philip Glass, I.M. Pei, Harper Lee, Gore Vidal, Edward R. Murrow, Charles Schulz, Rod Serling, and Mel Brooks.
 
 
 
 
 
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4 Comments
 
 
Mark Isenberg
Sorry but Susan Lacy is not my favorite PBS Executive Producer for the American Masters series having butchered the Joni Mitchell episode with too much praise from the usual suspects and not enough music.Although,yes,Harper Lee was well done.So,nobody expects American Masters to be great like a Ken Burns series but it needs improvement and I doubt there is a Sheila Nevins type left at PBS to do hard work on it.
Jun 23, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Thank you for always celebrating American Masters' anniversary, Dave! In honor of this year's 30th anniversary, American Masters has launched "In Their Own Words: The American Masters Digital Archive" and the "American Masters Podcast," featuring previously unreleased interviews filmed for the documentary series: 2,156 tapes, approximately 1,388 digitized hours, 800-plus interviews and counting. You can check it out, here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/digital-archive/
Jun 23, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Mark Isenberg
The quality has been uneven and the Joni Mitchell tribute from then executive producer Susan Lacy,the most glaring example.Even the life of Johnny Carson omited a lot of his personal demons despite the ongoing generosity of his Foundation. It may be time to find a better way to tell these stories or cancel the effort.
Jun 23, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Sally W.
Such a great show! The latest Mel Brooks episode was terrific. I'm glad that PBS keeps it up; I have trouble imagining any network - maybe some cable - doing such a show.
Jun 29, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
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